Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Monson: I do not object to the principle of Clause 82 but I think that this amendment, or something like it, will provide a very necessary and desirable safeguard. The public at large will not be very happy at the idea of prisoners being released, albeit on licence, after serving only a quarter, or just over a quarter, of their sentences. That goes completely against the grain of the last government's policy of honesty in sentencing, if I remember the phrase correctly. I think, however, they would be somewhat mollified if an amendment such as this were to be accepted.

Lord Belstead: Perhaps I may say a very brief word in support of my noble friend Baroness Anelay on this amendment. I have not seen the exchange of correspondence so I ask first of all, from my place in the Chamber, about those who are suitable to be chosen for electronic monitoring. It would be interesting, certainly for myself, to hear a little more from the Government Front Bench about those who will be suitable.

The real reason I have risen to speak is that if one looks at subsection (4) there is set out the eligibility date for the different groups of short-term prisoners, for all of whom the day of release will be very much earlier than it has been under the present arrangements. As the Government will know very well, at present prisoners serving fewer than four years are eligible for early release at the half-way point of their sentence, but under Clause 82(4) the times for all different groups of under four year prisoners will be very much earlier for their early release than now.

That leads me to the question I want to ask. Are the Government confident that electronic monitoring will create a situation where the rate of reoffending will not

3 Mar 1998 : Column 1170

be higher than it is now and the prospects for rehabilitation will be better because of the electronic monitoring and the surveillance that goes with it? That is really quite a simple question.

I have some views of my own from having read papers about electronic monitoring but I am anxious to hear this evening the views of the Ministers, briefly but succinctly, as to the success as they see it, of electronic monitoring.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: First of all, the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St. Johns. The answer is that the contents of the letter still stand. I appreciate that only the noble Lord, Lord Henley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, to whom it was sent, have seen the contents of the letter so perhaps I should also undertake to send a copy to both the noble Lord, Lord Monson, and the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, who have intervened in the debate. Nothing that has been said in the letter has been departed from.

So far as concerns the publication of the criteria, I can assure the House that it is our intention to publish the criteria as part of the more detailed guidance that the Prison Service will use to assess suitability for home detention curfew. The assessment will seek to balance any risk to the public presented by the bringing forward of the release date against the potential benefits of incorporating a period of home detention curfew within the prisoner's sentence. We are currently preparing the guidance, and hope to issue it shortly. I will ensure that it is placed in the Libraries of both Houses of Parliament as quickly as possible.

I believe, however, that it would be very unusual for guidance of this kind to be given statutory status without any overriding reason. Moreover, with a new procedure of this kind, it would be beneficial to retain the flexibility provided by non-statutory guidance, which can be amended in the light of experience.

Questions have been asked about precisely what categories of prisoner will be considered for it. That will be dealt with in the guidance and, to a certain extent, has been dealt with in the letter that everybody will see.

What will be the criteria that the Prison Service will use to assess suitability for release under the scheme? The exact details of the risk assessment process are still being developed, but the type of factors that the Prison Service are likely to consider will include whether release on home detention curfew will pose an unacceptable risk to the public; whether there is a substantial risk of reoffending during the home curfew period and whether it is likely that the offender will fail to comply with the conditions of the curfew.

Who will decide? It will be for the prison governor to decide.

How can the Government claim that releasing these prisoners will not present a risk to the public? There will always be a risk of reoffending by these prisoners. Even if found unsuitable for release on this scheme, they will be automatically released at most two months later. Our job is therefore to minimise the risk they present. We

3 Mar 1998 : Column 1171

believe that the electronic monitoring will help to that extent but to go further would be injudicious at this stage.

I think that answers, albeit not completely, all the questions that have been raised. In those circumstances, I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

8 p.m.

Baroness Anelay of St. Johns: I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for that reply, particularly for his offer to distribute more widely the letter that was sent to my noble friend Lord Henley in January. I am also grateful for his comment that the guidance, although not with us in Committee, will be published "shortly". I have been advised by colleagues who have previously served in a ministerial capacity about the variations between the definitions of "soon", "very soon" and now "shortly". As a novice at the Dispatch Box, I shall have to keep a log of how the definition comes to be proved to exist in the end. At the moment, I need to cover myself because I do not yet quite know what the noble and learned Lord means by "shortly". In those circumstances, I cannot promise not to come back to this matter at Report. However, in the meantime, I ask the permission of the Committee to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 82, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 83 [Curfew condition to be included in licence]:

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 264:


Page 70, line 37, after ("person") insert ("aged 16 or over").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment would enable prisoners under 16 to be eligible for the early release provisions set out in Clauses 82 to 86 without having to be electronically tagged. In appropriate cases, school age children could be given early release under conditions other than tagging.

There are particular problems attached to the tagging of children of school age. The young people concerned would have to attend school with a tag strapped to their wrist or ankle, marking them out as an offender. Whereas adults can easily conceal a tag beneath their clothing, schoolchildren involved in physical education and taking showers will find it difficult to hide their tag. Some children will find this very humiliating and embarrassing while others are likely to react by boasting about their tag and wearing it as a badge of honour, adopting a hard image to live up to it. This is the opposite of the attitudes towards which we are trying to steer young offenders.

In view of the potential problems, it would make sense to allow discretion for school age children to be eligible for early release subject to supervision and conditions other than tagging. I beg to move.

Lord Goodhart: I rise briefly to say that the noble Baroness's amendment is a matter of plain common sense. It would be potentially devastating for a child to have to go to school wearing a tag. In extreme cases it could even lead to suicide. I am aware that the

3 Mar 1998 : Column 1172

monitoring procedure does not have to be carried out during school hours, but the tag, as I understand it, will not be removable for the parts of the day when the child is at school. I hope very strongly that the Government will see fit to accept the amendment.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I recognise the points which have been well made, if I may say so, by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. It has to be recognised that there are special factors to be considered in applying curfew orders and electronic monitoring to juvenile offenders. We do not want to exclude the opportunity of using this on under 16 year-olds, but further work needs to be done.

I hope it is of assistance to the Committee if I say that, in order to research these sensitive matters more fully, we have started to pilot in Norfolk and Manchester the use of curfews imposed as a sentence under the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 for 10 to 15 year-olds. Obviously, that will not be the work of a couple of weekends. It is due to end in the summer of 1999. After that, we will evaluate their success and appropriateness for this age group.

In order for the lessons to be learnt and to give due weight to what has been said, we intend to introduce at the earliest opportunity a government amendment which will allow for the introduction of the home detention curfew for juvenile offenders to be delayed until the outcomes of these trial projects have been fully evaluated. In order that all juveniles are treated on an equal basis, the phased introduction would apply to all those aged 10 to 17. The amendment was well explained and I hope that our response is satisfactory.

Baroness David: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, for his support for the amendment and I thank the Minister for his response, which I think is acceptable. I hope that the results of the pilot schemes will be made known to us. The response was fairly favourable and so I am happy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page